With new restaurants popping up all the time, we sometimes forget about the Petaluma staples that have stood the test of time. Old Chicago Pizza is one such restaurant, and today still has the same allure as it did forty years ago when it first opened, for great pizza, great service, and a great location, looking down on the hustle and bustle of downtown Petaluma.
Growing up in Petaluma, “as American as baseball and apple pie,” was more appropriately covered by “bowling and Old Chicago.” When choosing how we wanted to celebrate our birthdays, we often chose Old Chicago followed by bowling, and from the large teenage party going on in the back room during our visit, Old Chicago seems to still be a popular birthday choice.
Even since childhood, when asked which pizza is my favorite, my answer has always been “Old Chicago.” Admittedly, I enjoy some of the flatter pizzas around town, but I am a deep-dish guy at heart, and nobody quenches that hunger quite like Old Chicago. Even through a decade in San Francisco and another in the East Bay, Old Chicago always topped my list for pizza. I was tempted with the likes of Zachary’s but always stuck by Old Chicago, and after our recent lunch, steadfastly still do. I even spent a long weekend in the “Windy City” attempting to search out the best deep dish, but none were as satisfying as our Petaluma stalwart.
Interestingly, Chicago is not called the “Windy City” because it is particularly windy, but instead was part of a late 1800’s campaign advertising the cool summer breezes blowing in off Lake Michigan. In fact, when it comes to average wind, San Francisco actually edges Chicago out, with average winds of 10.5 mph, versus Chicago’s 10.3 mph.
Additionally, and contrary to what some may say, Chicagoan’s will tell you that the “real” Chicago style pizza is not the deep-dished deliciousness turned out by places like Old Chicago. Instead, it is a thin, crispy, and greasy crusted pie, which first appeared on bar tops along the workers’ route home from the factories to entice them to stay and have another beer or two. Also peculiar to the uninitiated, this style of pizza is usually cut into squares, referred to as “tavern cut,” “Chicago cut,” or “party cut.” Chicago locals buy more of the thin than deep dish version, which they consider a touristy thing, in large part because the famous deep dish pie shops in Chicago tend to be in touristy areas.
Regardless of what Chicagoans call “real” Chicago pizza, with both the thin crust and the deep dish having been invented around the same time, not to mention both being born several generations ago, either can be considered “Chicago style”, and personally, I prefer the deep version. But I digress. Clearly, “Chicago” Bill Berliner preferred deep dish pizza and Petaluma has been rejoicing ever since.
Current co-owner Audrey Haglund spent her formative years in Petaluma, and graduated from Petaluma High. One of her first jobs was at the Plaza Theater, now the Mystic Theater.
“The Plaza Theatre and Old Chicago traded movie tickets for pizza,” says Audrey. “I loved the pizza and got to know many of the employees. In 1987 applied to Old Chicago, and was hired by general manager Michael Hansen. “Working both jobs in the heart of downtown Petaluma where everything was happening was a dream.”